The University of Tulsa family lost a special member Wednesday when Distinguished Alumnus and Trustee Emeritus Steve Turnbo (BA ’67) passed away at age 78.
“Steve played baseball here at The University of Tulsa and then later became a trustee, a close confidant of several presidents, and a major civic leader for the state – not just for the city,” said TU President Brad R. Carson. “Steve has helped build the university as it is today, and his passing will be noted here. And he will be long remembered.”
At TU, Turnbo received the Distinguished Alumni and J. Paschal Twyman Awards in 2001 and 2021, respectively. He served many years on the TU Board of Trustees and Kendall College of Arts & Sciences Board of Visitors and was arguably the Golden Hurricane’s biggest sports fan. He was inducted into the TU Communications Hall of Fame in 2011 and the TU Collins College of Business Hall of Fame in 2015.
Turnbo co-founded Schnake Turnbo Frank, a successful PR firm in Tulsa, and continued with the firm as chairman emeritus until his death. He was a past president of the TU Alumni Association and taught the public relations case studies course in Kendall College of Arts & Sciences for more than 12 years, saying it was some of his most rewarding work.
“Steve Turnbo was ‘Loyal, Always True.’ His legacy and love for TU and Tulsa will endure as an indelible mark on the institution he helped shape and elevate. Steve’s passing leaves a void that will be keenly felt, but his memory will inspire generations to come,” said Amy Freiberger, interim vice president for university advancement and alumni engagement.
In addition to writing and editing for The Collegian student newspaper, Turnbo was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, a two-year letterwinner in baseball, and an all-Missouri Valley Conference selection at first base.
“It brought great sadness today upon hearing of the loss of Steve Turnbo. We extend our deepest condolences to his family,” said TU Vice President and Director of Athletics Rick Dickson. “We are all in a better place for having known Steve and the warmth of his friendship and love for TU and Tulsa. His life and service to others made a difference for all and will live on through his memory.”
Turnbo began his career as TU’s sports information director before moving to a local ad agency where he was later named vice president for public relations. In 1981, he became vice president of marketing for MidAmerica Federal Savings & Loan Association and eventually launched his own PR firm before it merged with Chuck Schnake’s business. Along the way, Turnbo staked his claim as a community advocate, supporting diversity and civil justice projects. He has held leadership roles with the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, Tulsa Regional Chamber, John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation and Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice.
Turnbo was preceded in death by his wife of over 40 years, Norma, and a son, John Hartz. Survivors include two daughters, Jana Maher and Nancy Cole; a sister, Mary Sue Stewart; and many grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Dec. 2 in TU’s Sharp Chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Norma and Steve Turnbo Fund for Kendall College, c/o The University of Tulsa, 800 S. Tucker Drive, Westby Hall, Tulsa, OK 74104.